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Read to Write From The Successful

09-06-19, Euicho, Blue Gradient This week I read ‘Digital Fortress’ by Dan Brown. Now this book was not on my ‘immediate’ reading list, in fact it was probably a fair way down the list.

What made the book leap out from the stack in to my hand?

Simply this; Angela picked up the book recently and simply devoured the book, virtually reading it cover to cover in one sitting. Now this is a behaviour alien to her, there are so many other important matters that demand her attention, that the luxury of reading a novel is limited to tiny spots of ‘me time’, squeezed between the serious business.

Now ‘Digital Fortress’ was different, it upset the rules. Somehow it grabbed her attention and held it for all of the 510 pages. In order to write a good story, one that people want to read and preferably devour as Angela did, I need to know the lesson contained within those pages.

The first observation is the shortness of the chapters. For example, chapter 8 is around 250 words long and is one of 128 chapters in the book. Each chapter tells part of the story from a different character’s view point. Chapters start with a strong message of the current task, for example Chapter32;

“David Becker stood in the hallway outside suite 301.He knew that somewhere behind the ornately carved door was the ring. A matter of national security.”

Often, Dan Brown uses this to inform the reader of what will be covered in the current chapter, so if you browse the beginning of the chapter, you become hooked to see the conclusion.

Also in this book, chapter finishes are not just cliff hangers that affect either the current viewpoint character or one of the others. He often uses the final cliff hanger to provide reason to read the information dump in the next chapter, in that you feel you are getting important information about what has just occurred or been hinted at.

For example, chapter 5 closes with “Yes Ensei Tankado just made TRANSLTR obsolete.”, which was an enormously significant event and two chapters had been used promoting the importance of TRANSLTR. Ensei Tankado had only just been introduced and so all of chapter 6 is used to fill in his back story and the reader feels it is important information being supplied.

The crafting of the opening and closing sentences appear so integrated into the chapter structure and information delivery, that I had the impression that the start and final sentences were written first and each chapter body was written to support them.

There is more technique used in this book than the planning of the opening and the closing of short chapters. However I believe it is this that gives the book a ‘can’t put it down’ nature. I am now re-reading the book armed with post-it notes, leaving a trail of yellow throughout the book, as I look for lessons that suit my style.

The lesson here is not to copy a successful style but to be aware of techniques used by successful authors and make use of them when appropriate. It is a lesson of reading carefully, of analysing successful authors’ words in order to learn to write.

Read to write from the successful.

Photo; Blue Gradient, cc Euicho

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